Two and a Half Men through the Lens of Gender & Attachment Styles

Two and a Half Men through the Lens of Gender & Attachment Styles

The issue of gender roles has been a controversial topic in society. The society interprets gender (masculinity and femininity) distinctively. Masculinity and femininity include attitudes, norms, behavior, values, and roles typical of men and women in society. An extensive body of research has demonstrated differences between female and male traits, including social norms, politics and economics, religion, work, family, and school. These gender traits are socially constructed. In contemporary society, media plays a major role in shaping attitudes and perceptions of gender. For instance, media messages portray women as talkative, less assertive than men, emotional, fragile, nurturing, and passive while men are depicted as being adventurous, womanizers, assertive, strong-willed, and successful. These cultural images influence society’s perceptions of masculinity and femininity. However, younger people are more likely to be influenced compared to other age groups since they are at a stage of developing self-perceptions and worldviews. One of the traits widely studied in femininity and masculinity is attachment style. Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991) theorized the mentioned concept among adults. The authors categorized attachment styles as secure, preoccupied, dismissing, and fearful. Alan and Charlie use images of masculinity to influence Jake’s, Allan’s son, attachment style in the TV show Two and a Half Men.


Two and a Half Men, which premiered in 2003 and ended in 2005, was created by Chuck Lorre and Lee Aronsohn. The show features two brothers, Alan and Charlie Harper, and Alan’s son, Jake. After being divorced by his manipulative wife, Alan moves in with his rich brother Charlie. Jake divides his time between his mother and father. The show revolves around the conflicting lifestyles and personalities of Alan and Charlie. The former is a chiropractor and a caring father while the latter, who writes jingles for commercials, is careless, drinks excessively, and sleeps with multiple women. Jake is torn between the two personalities: his straightforward, caring father and his rich and reckless uncle who he considers to be fun at times. Jake is a typical portrayal of children raised by separated parents. Additionally, he is lazy, disrespectful, and food-obsessed (IMDb, 2003). In 2011, CBS and Warner Bros. halted the production of the American Sitcom after Charlie Sheen (Charlie Harper), who had entered drug rehabilitation, caused a scandal. Consequently, Sheen was fired from the show. His character was replaced by Ashton Kutcher, who joined the show as the wealthy man who bought Charlie’s beachfront house after his (Charlie) death. In season twelve, Two and a Half Men drew controversieswhen two straight men, Alan and Walden, got married before the adoption of a child (Morabito, 2015). The show was officially aired on CBS.

Literature Review

Before analyzing the existing body of knowledge on gender and attachment, it is important to understand the concept of gender identity and gender differences, particularly communication and attachment. Gender identity is an innermost personal sense of self and personal experience of male or female (Hoftede, 2001). As mentioned earlier, males and females have different traits. For instance, in communication, researchers, including Tannen (2012), have established that women talk more in private while men talk more in public. Tannen explains that women use language to establish relationships (raport-talk) while men utilize the same to preserve independence and maintain structure (report-talk) (2012). His reasoning has been backed by Edwin Ardener’s(1975)Muted Group theory that contends that to be heard and heeded, one must use the dominant mode of expression, which is men’s style of expression, in this context. However, feminist researchers have challenged the mentioned reasoning by claiming that it suppresses the voice of women. The feminists argue that categorizing women as the silent group indicates powerlessness and passivity, which are inconsistent with feminism (Ardener, 1975). Attachment is an emotional bond that humans and other mammalian species develop from their interaction with primary caregivers from birth to adulthood (Bowlby, 2015). Additionally, the type of attachments formed in childhood normally determines the nature of those developed in adulthood. Since attachment styles can be associated with various psychological and behavioral issues (Barry et al., 2015), it is important to study individual’s attachment patterns.

The concept of attachment has been demonstrated differently between male and females.  The attachment concept has established that infants form relationships with their caregivers, which determine their attachment patterns in adulthood. Various models of attachment have been established and tested on social and emotional adaptation in adults. However, these studies have various limitations. For instance, Kobak & Sceery (as cited in Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991) omitted the group of people who might have negative perceptions of self and others. Hazan & Shaver (as cited in Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991) used self reports to categorize adult attachment into three patterns that correspond to infant attachment. They did not use a semi-structured interview. While it has been identified that these models differ in self and image, no theory had combined all levels of self image and the image of others. Using the four-category model, Bartholomew & Horowitz (1991) demonstrated four patterns of attachment in adulthood. Their model defines attachment patterns by combing both positive and negative self-image and image of others. Bartholomew and Horowitz used four cells to present attachment styles. The first cell, which is labeled ‘secure,’ indicates a combination of worthiness and an expectation to be accepted. The second cell, ‘preoccupied, presents a sense of unworthiness with a positive perception of others. Individuals who exhibit this type of attachment desire self-acceptance of valued others. The third category is ‘fearful-avoidant.’People Who develop this attachment style feel unworthy and expect a negative disposition by others. The fearful-avoidant pattern protects individuals from anticipated rejection. The last cell is ‘dismissing.’ It represents a sense of worthiness with a negative perception of others. These individuals strive to maintain a sense of independence and invulnerability (Bartholomew &Horowitz, 1991). Figure 1 indicates the four cells of attachment.

Figure: Model of Adult Attachment

Various studies have demonstrated sex differences in attachment styles. Bartholomew and Horowitz, using Bartholomew’s family and peer interviews and self-report surveys, found out that females scored higher on preoccupied style while men scored higher in the dismissing rating (1991). While studying gender differences in attachment style and adulthood satisfaction, Barry et al. (2015) revealed that women scored higher in avoidant rating compared to men. Accounting for this score, the team explained that women value emotional attachment and they, therefore, use an avoidant attachment to protect themselves from rejection. Scharfe (2017) points out that gender differences in attachment styles are expected since the society socializes male and females differently from birth. He further explains that the two genders perceive social interactions differently and as a result, exhibit different behaviors in their relationships. PerGiudice&Belsky (2010), gender differences in attachment styles may start manifesting in middle childhood. Other studies have reported sex differences in attachment in late childhood. Majority of these studies have concentrated on insecure children whereby females are revealed to be more ambivalent while males are more avoidant (Scharfe, 2017). Various methods have been employed in these studies, including the Coping Strategies Questionnaire, the Doll Story Completion Task, and the Manchester Child Attachment Story Task. Simpson et al. (2002) (as cited in Scharfe, 2017), produced results consistent to Bartholomew and Harowitz’s. The team revealed that men scored higher in dismissing ratings while women recorded higher preoccupied ratings. Researchers using Bartholomew and Horowitz’s four-category model have consistently revealed sex differences in attachment styles.

Studying gender differences in the attachment is important because it helps to comprehend the effects of these attachment patterns on adult relationships. A broad body of knowledge indicates that preoccupied or ambivalent males and avoidant or dismissing females are likely to experience negative relationships (Scharfe, 2017). Simpson et al. (1999) (as cited in Scharfe, 2017) found out that highly ambivalent male attachments are less likely to flourish. In a similar vein, Kanninem et al. (2003) (as cited in Scharfe, 2017) noted that preoccupied males are more likely to experience difficulty in coping with traumatic experiences. Bodner et al. (2014) (as cited in Scharfe, 2017) reported that preoccupied males in early adulthood are less satisfied with their lives. Furthermore, scholars have suggested that women are more likely to exhibit avoidant behavior when under stress and that these women may experience various interpersonal problems. For instance, Scharfe cites the work of Rholes et al. (1999), which showed that avoidant women were more likely to display anger in their relationships (2017). Bartholomew & Horowitz (1991) associated lack of warmth to dismissing subjects.

Harper is expected to project an attachment style based on the influence of the images of masculinity imposed by his father and uncle. He is subjected to two conflicting personalities of caregivers, which makes it hard to predict his attachment style and the interpersonal problems he is likely to exhibit. On one side, he is impressed by his loving and caring father, but he sometimes finds him boring. On the other hand, Jake, although not all the time, is pleased by his irresponsible uncle. He believes he is fun and interesting. This research will use Bartholomew’s four-category model to analyze how Jake’s relationships are influenced by the images of masculinity and communication patterns of Alan and Charlie.



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